The time is right for chronographs

Led by chronographs and sport styles, fashion watch firms are turning functional fashion into increased sales.

The forecast for spring is bright, manufacturers say, following two years of lackluster results. They project increases ranging from slightly ahead to as much as 25 percent ahead of last spring.

Makers expect chronographs and sport watches, which started to take off at retail for fall, to on an upward movement for spring.

The renewed interest in watches began in June, and since then the category has really come into its own,” said Susan Toffanetti, senior buyer for bridge jewelry and fashion watches at the Department Store Division of Dayton Hudson Corp., Minneapolis. “Anything that is novel, from color or mirrored faces to dual-time dials, has done well.” She cited the Swatch chronograph and Guess Chronosport watches as the leaders.

Diane Mahood, general merchandise manager for accessories at Rich’s, Atlanta, said sport watches have sold the best for fall, with Guess and Fossil the top performers.

We think the functional fashion watches are going to bery strong for spring,” Mahood said. “The active styles are in tune with the lifestyle of today’s customer.”

The chronograph push started in June, when Swatch Watch USA, Inc., introduced a chronograph style that sold out in most stores across the country. Now other makers are following suit. Guess is set to launch a chronograph for spring, Anne Klein is launching a signature sport watch for spring, and Timex is working on a chronograph to be introduced within a year.

Chris Keigel, vice president of sales for Swatch, a division of SMH(US), Inc., here, said the chronograph took off in the U.S. for fall after a year of strong sales in Europe.

“Both vendors and retailers are benefitting from the popularity of the chronograph,” Keigel said. “It’s created a lot of consumer excitement and improved space and location for watches at retail.”

Mickey Callanen, president and principal of the Callanen Group, here, which holds the license for Guess and Monet watches, said Guess’s Chronosport group is the “biggest, hottest look” right now for his firm.

The Chronosport, introduced for fall, includes features such as a digital display, moon dial, day and date mini-dial and a dial with numbered seconds. It sells for $28 to $38 wholesale.

The Guess division will have a volume of about $54 million in 1991, Callanen said, with the Chronosport line representing about 35 percent of overall volume.

Guess will launch a chronograph watch for spring that includes a stopwatch function, which the Chronosport collection does not have.

Another new style for spring is a goldplated stretch-band group with color faces and a Roman numeral hand display, inspired from popular men’s watches of the 1960s, for $27.50 wholesale.

At Callanen’s Monet division, which offers classic day and evening looks, a group of watches with pearl and scarab stone bands has been the best seller for fall and is expected to continue that pace for spring.

The Monet division will have a volume of about $5 million in 1991, which is about 25 percent ahead of last year, Callanen said. He projected the same rate of increase for 1992.

Keigel of Swatch is not as optimistic, however, despite the success of the chronograph. He feels the resurgence of fashion watches has been curtailed by a weak economy.

Swatch is expecting only a slight increase in spring volume over last year, Keigel said.

“Sport watches will continue to grow at the expense of more fashion-oriented watches,” he said. “The chronographs and sport watches are the hottest thing we’ve seen for a long time.”

Swatch will introduce a new product for spring, Keigel said, which will be “similar in concept to the chronograph.” He declined to reveal any further information except to say the new product will be introduced in December for spring retailing.

Mark Odenheimer, vice president of the Anne Klein for Sutton Time division of E. Gluck Corp., here, agreed the sportwatch classification has sparked a turnaround in the watch market.

Odenheimer said sales for the first half of 1991 ran slightly behind, but since then there has been a dramatic improvement. He said sales increases are about 12 percent ahead for the third quarter, with projections of a 20 percent increase for the fourth quarter.

“We expect our new sport watch to put us at least 25 percent ahead for spring,” said Odenheimer.

The resurgence has been led by the idea of functional fashion,” he said. “Sport watches and bracelet watches with larger dials are both growing categories.” The Anne Klein collection wholesales for $50 to $100.

At E. Gluck’s Armitron division, chronograph and sport watches are expected to continue the strength they’ve shown for fall, said Mark Shell, vice president of the division. He projects increases of at least 10 percent. Armitron watches sell for $5 to $35 wholesale.

“The market was void of an exciting product and credit should be given to Swatch for introducing the chronograph watch,” Shell said. “The chronograph has opened the door for the whole fashion-watch category. Anything that has some special feature has a perceived value. I’m not sure the consumer is actually using a lot of the new features, but they want one that works.”

The renewed interest in watches has spurred Timex Corp., Waterbury, Conn., to add a new collection of fashion watches for spring called Carriage By Times, featuring 80 styles that wholesale from $19.95 to $34.95.

Justine Jennings, who heads the new division, said the line will feature several groups, including classic gold-tone watches with color leather straps, gold metal bracelet watches and natural leather straps with cream color dials.”

As for Timex’s core watch business, the firm’s Action Sport collection, which sells for $13 to $23 wholesale, is the strongest, according to Susie Watson, trend analyst for Timex. She said a basic black resin sport watch with functional accents is expected to be a top spring seller.

Philip Shaw, vice president of marketing for Bulova Corp., here, also said the forecast for spring is strong. He expects fall’s bestsellers, ranging from dressy sport watches to athletic chronographs from the division’s Accutron line, to continue to perform well for spring. The Bulova line wholesales for $15 to $65.

Chronograph watches are also expected to lead spring selling at the Tissot division of SMH.

“Chronos and anything with a technical look is what’s hot right now,” said Janet Cerruti, advertising and promotions manager for SMH. “We’re doing them in quartz and automatic styles.”

Tissot is also introducing a dressier collection for spring called PRX, featuring two-tone metal bands or leather straps in classic, sport and chronograph styles.

At SHM’s Omega division, more expensive chronographs from the firm’s Conzstellation and Speedmaster series have helped the firm reach “double-digit” increases in 1991.

Gerald Batt, president of the division, agrees that “chronographs combine function and fashion that is the right statement for today’s active lifestyle.”